A wax sculpture of the Rev. Absalom Jones, the first African-American priest of the Episcopal Church, sat facing the congregation July 27 during the 47th annual meeting and conference of the Union of Black Episcopalians. The sculpture is now part of the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum in Baltimore.
The UBE met July 26-29 at the Maritime Institute under the theme of “Call to Action: Black Lives Matter from Emmett Till to…” The group unveiled the statue, supported in part by the Diocese of Pennsylvania, during a memorial service at the Cathedral of the Incarnation in Baltimore.
The Society of Archbishop Justus provides background on how Jones became a priest:
In 1786 the membership of St. George’s Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia included both blacks and whites. However, the white members met that year and decided that thereafter black members should sit only in the balcony. Two black Sunday worshipers, Absalom Jones (1746-1818) and Richard Allen (1760-1831), whose enthusiasm for the Methodist Church had brought many blacks into the congregation, learned of the decision only when, on the following Sunday, ushers tapped them on the shoulder during the opening prayers, and demanded that they move to the balcony without waiting for the end of the prayer. They walked out, followed by the other black members.
Absalom Jones conferred with William White, Episcopal Bishop of Philadelphia, who agreed to accept the group as an Episcopal parish. Jones would serve as lay reader, and, after a period of study, would be ordained and serve as rector. Allen wanted the group to remain Methodist, and in 1793 he left to form a Methodist congregation. In 1816 he left the Methodists to form a new denomination, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). Jones (ordained deacon and priest in 1795 and 1802) and Allen (ordained deacon and elder in 1799 and 1816) were the first two black Americans to receive formal ordination in any denomination.
Image by LA Collins photography